Sunday, March 20, 2011

Las Fallas, 2011

I am finding it a bit difficult to describe what has been happening in Valencia over the past couple of weeks, but that is because most of what I have seen, heard and experienced simply defies explanation. Las Fallas, the biggest festival in all of Europe (including Germany's Oktoberfest) ended yesterday, but not without leaving an awesome impression on this Familia Americana.

Falla Na Jordana
an anti - anti - smoking statement
Valencia is home to several hundred Falla Clubs (social clubs), disbursed throughout the city. Over the course of the year, each Falla Club spends hundreds of thousands of dollars and the span of the entire year designing and creating a giant - as in 3 or 4 stories tall - polystyrene and wooden sculpture to display in the street during Fallas. Clubs vie for the best falla artists to craft the biggest and best monument, which usually represents a satirical commentary (or two). During the weeks leading up to March 19th, these impressive monstrosities are displayed around the city (there are a few hundred in all). It is a very important competition between the clubs in which the monuments are judged and awarded monetary prizes.

Each club selects Falleras and Falleros to represent them throughout the festivities. There is a Fallera Mayor (like a queen) and a court of honor at each club, as well as a Fallera Infantíle (under 10) and an Infantíle Court. Then, a Fallera Mayor (and her court) and a Fallera Infantíle (and court) are chosen to represent Valencia. This was, by and large, my favorite thing to see. The level of costumery and poise displayed by the Falleras is unlike anything I have ever witnessed! On a "boys' night out," Bill met an off duty Fallera who told him that the material alone for each of her dresses cost 7000 Euros ($10,000) - and she had to have 4 dresses!!!

On the night of March 17th, and again on the night of March 18th, thousands of Falleras and Falleros begin a procession to the Plaza de la Virgen to present a floral offering to a giant sculpture of The Virgin Mary. Artistic designers assign each club a specific type and color of flower to bring. Fourteen artisans work to ceremoniously gather the presented flowers to create Mary's coat while the crowd looks on.

The final design of Mary's coat is not revealed until the masterpiece unfolds. Once completed, the Plaza is transformed into one of the most amazingly beautiful and fragrant places I have ever seen - or smelled! Remaining flowers are used to create tapestries that adorn the Basilica and line the center of the Plaza.

For the Falleras who are granted the honor of making the presentation to Mary, it is a very moving and emotional experience. Many walk away in tears.

No story about Las Fallas would be complete without particular attention given to the final activities of the night of March 19th, La Crema (the burning). Not only does each Falla Club create a giant monument, but most also display a children's falla (infantíl). Around 10:00 p.m., the infantíls throughout the city are ceremoniously set on fire. Yes, the clubs burn their own outrageously expensive and time involved works of art every year! It is crazy.

Na Jordana infantíl burning

The biggest (and most anticipated) cremas begin shortly after midnight. We waited for what felt like hours in our primo location to witness the burning of the Na Jordana Falla (from above). There were dozens of bomberos (firefighters) on hand with their hoses to control the burn (in some cases, the fallas are only 10-20 meters from nearby buildings). The fronts of the surrounding buildings were draped in canvas tarps that were watered down to prevent burning. Teams of pyrotechnicians worked to encase the falla in ropes of fireworks that would create a chain reaction to ignite the fire. At around 1:15 a.m., we looked overhead to watch an explosion of brilliant fireworks and before we knew it, the falla was ablaze. Because we were so close, the heat was intense, but the display was amazing!

Na Jordana falla ablaze

To help the family get more into the spirit of the festival, Henry decided to design and build his own personal falla. His school had been focusing on music around the world, so he created a 60's jukebox out of cardboard. He had the vision and design, but needed Bill's help to execute the piece. After assembling the jukebox falla, the boys lined it with small firecrackers (Henry had been waiting all week to light firecrackers). After darkness fell last night, we all went out to a small area behind our flat (with Anthony and some of his friends who were visiting) and Bill set Henry's falla on fire. The burn was most impressive - perfectly engineered and beautifully designed!

This morning, the streets are clear, the air is quiet, the tourists are leaving and we are getting our city back. I swear - it's like it was all just a dream . . . a 14 day, 24/7, firecracker laden dream!